Munich, primarily based on the Robert Harris novel, is a German-British TV manufacturing that was filmed in Germany and subsequently in England in late 2020. I used to be invited to affix the crew as an on-set stills photographer for the UK leg of capturing.
We began in Liverpool, which was doubling for Thirties London. The historic Liver Constructing, which stood in for Gotham metropolis in the forthcoming Batman film, made a really convincing Whitehall. The manufacturing later moved south to Amersham in Buckinghamshire the place we shot in historic homes used as units for Chequers and Downing Avenue.
At this point in the pandemic, England was in tier four, which made for a strange but fascinating experience. After months shielding in London and seeing barely anyone, it was overwhelming to be near so many other people. Overwhelming and at times bizarre when, after so much isolation, I’d suddenly find myself surrounded by more than 100 masked supporting artists in immaculate 30s period dress.
The streets of Liverpool were almost entirely deserted, which meant that the period details, classic cars and authentic costumes made for a convincing illusion.
Part of the budget for the production went into Covid protection,now standard on all film and television productions. We formed a giant bubble. Lateral flow tests were administered every other day. PCR tests every three days. Masks were worn and monitors – the so-called “Covid police” – checked that everyone was maintaining protocols and distance.
The cast, principal actors, and all extras wore masks on set until the final rehearsal and during takes, after which face coverings went back on. Windows and doors were wide open everywhere.
The film’s action is mainly set in late summer and early September but we were filming in an unusually cold, frosty late November and December. The interiors were as cold as the exteriors. One particularly frigid day, in a country house with huge open windows and doors, a “creative” decision was made, partly by the poor actors in their 30s suits (with crew in North Facethermals) to the effect that Prime Minister Chamberlain would have had an open fire roaring during his early September cabinet meeting.
The protocols worked and other than the odd heart-stopping false positive lateral flow test, there were no actual cases of Covid during the British leg of filming, despite the large numbers of people involved in some scenes.
The strangest part was what the Covid precautions did to the camaraderie of the production.. For Munich, we routinely worked 10- or 11-hour days as part of a tight crew but then went back to the hotel to eat alone in our rooms.
Even so, it was thrilling to be part of such a large creative group.
As the stills photographer I was with the camera department. All of the active camera crew were German, working under director of photography Frank Lamm. Usually, scenes were shot with two cameras, an “A” and a “B” device. For larger scenes, there were up to four cameras, each one accompanied by a focus puller, a microphone boom holder and a grip to make sure cables were clear .
As a stills photographer, I would often try to shoot during rehearsals before each take, but this wasn’t always possible. Actors like to have the set clear and quiet, the better to communicate with the director. That meant for much of the filming I was shooting during the actual take. This entailed trying to fit myself as unobtrusively, respectfully and noiselessly as possible into a space near the camera so as not to be in shot. This meant keeping to the right side of the boom holder so I could crouch next to their chest [their work means they have their arms above their head and are close to the actors. It’s a good spot but a very tight one and, as the stills photographer, I had to remember I was the least important part of any take. If I messedup, got in someone’s way, or distracted an actor, the I’d be the the easiest person to kick off the set.
I enjoy the challenge of getting the balance between being pushy enough to edge close to the action I want to photograph while being discreet and diplomatic enough to be allowed to do this by the rest of the crew.
There was one big challenge of working with the German camera crew. While they were incredibly welcoming, Frank and the other cinematographer, Niv, operating camera B, along with German director Christian, tended to make very quick decisions, often after the rehearsal, about what the shot would look like. They spoke in German, meaning we non-German-speaking members of the crew had to try to work out where was safe to stand. The nightmare would be being standing in some actor’s way or, God forbid, ruining a whole take by ending up in shot.
The closest I came to disrupting a scene was when we were filming in the freezing fog trying to shoot a late-summer, Downing Street garden scene. I misunderstood the German and nearly found myself directly under Jeremy Irons’s feet. I threw myself under a rhododendron bush and just about got away with it.
The producer of Munich, Andrew Eaton, was also the original producer of The Crown and there are similarities in the attention to period detail and the degree of veracity achieved with props and costumes. Particularly in scenes set in the secretaries’ offices under Whitehall (filmed in an imposing and deserted bank in central Liverpool).
I walked on the set when everybody had damaged for lunch and, other than the odd piece of gaffer tape and the lingering foul scent of theatrical natural cigarettes, the phantasm was whole. One actually may have been in a 30s authorities workplace. Each letter on each desk was addressed and franked realistically. The stationery in drawers was appropriate to the interval. The calendars on desks had been set to the appropriate date. It’s outstanding how a lot work goes in to this simply to create a convincing and absorbing recreation – in order that the actors and viewers “really feel” it. Really outstanding.
The manufacturing used Rochester city corridor, a constructing chosen by Hitler to be shipped to Germany brick by brick in the occasion of a profitable Nazi invasion of Britain, as an alternative choice to the Palace of Westminster. Rows of inexperienced benches full of picture-perfect supporting artists had been dressed and made as much as be the MPs on the Tory benches, augmented with inexperienced screens that may assist the visible FX crew insert the relaxation of the well-known chamber.
I’m not typically on movie units, however I at all times find it irresistible when I’m. To be concerned with a manufacturing of this measurement throughout the excessive strangeness of a pandemic made all of it the extra memorable.